Essential California: USC’s abuse payouts anger some

Two women embracing
Audry Nafziger, left, hugs Lucy Chi after attorneys announced a landmark $852-million settlement with former patients of Dr. George Tyndall.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, May 3. I’m Shelby Grad.

USC’s $1.1 billion in settlements to about 17,000 former patients of gynecologist George Tyndall was the largest sex-abuse payout in education history. But the payouts vary widely. Women who chose to join a federal class-action suit received far less than those who gambled on individual suits. The results have left some victims exuberant and others feeling cheated.

As Matt Hamilton and Harriet Ryan reported, the bitterness comes at what many hoped would be a moment of healing and justice. And the situation is unusual.


[Read “For USC women, largest-ever sex abuse payout leaves bitterness, vast disparities” in the Los Angeles Times]

“I’m really struggling to think of a situation where the highest paid members ... were 10 times higher than a very similar settlement that was reached in the same 12- to 24-month period,” said Loyola Law School professor Adam Zimmerman, who teaches complex litigation and served as counsel to the special master for the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

The issues come as USC hopes to finally move beyond the scandal.

We asked Matt where things stand:

The university has committed to paying over $1 billion. What’s the problem?

USC agreed to pay alleged victims of Tyndall through two paths: a $215-million federal class-action settlement announced in 2018 and an $852-million state court settlement. But the class action is split among 17,000 women, with the largest awards not exceeding $300,000 — while the larger $852 million is split among more than 710 women and their lawyers. Several USC alums who were part of the class-action settlement feel they were shortchanged by the agreement and that their trauma was undervalued. Some have started contacting attorneys for a potential legal malpractice claim against the attorneys who led the class-action settlement.

Where is the Tyndall case now?


Former patients have reached a global settlement, so USC’s legal cases are coming to an end. USC has instituted numerous reforms, including more women on the health staff of the campus health center; an independent women’s health advocate; and more sexual violence prevention programs and trainings. And Tyndall still faces criminal charges filed by Los Angeles County prosecutors; he has pleaded not guilty, and a trial is expected by next year.

Total recall

In many ways, the recall campaign against Gov. Gavin Newsom seems such a political improbability. It was fueled by the right in a very blue state. And the big issue that drove so much anger — the closure of businesses during the pandemic — is fading as California’s COVID-19 cases subside.

Yet this will be a political event for much of the rest of the year.

Here are a few great reads that explain how we got here.

  1. The AM radio show “Friday Night at the French Laundry” is a forum for conspiracy fantasies and real-world grievances against Newsom. Its hosts are leading the recall effort. As James Rainey and Faith Pinho report: “‘The three musketeers,’ as fans call them, deliver a raw, seat-of-the-pants reimagining of a media format that has been a mobilizing juggernaut for conservatives for at least three decades. They claim the everyman mantle, aligned against not only the state’s Democratic leaders but also some in the Republican establishment whom they see as opportunistic latecomers to their cause.” (Los Angeles Times)
  2. What is different from 2003? “In 2003 we were just getting out of a world recession — this was a worldwide phenomenon — and right alongside it was then the state problems,” says Arnold Schwarzenegger. He managed to get Gray Davis recalled. Now an “elder statesman,” he can’t help but feel for Newsom — even over the infamous French Laundry dinner. “Oy vey!” he said, laughing. “It’s — you know, you can see how it can happen.” (New York Times)
  3. Will the recall end up being a “clown car”? Early indications are promising. (Politico)
  4. The best news for Newsom? So far, Democrats are solidly behind him. (Los Angeles Times)
  5. Caitlin Jenner has had a rough first few weeks as a candidate. She’s been criticized for not talking to the media. When she kind of did this weekend, it didn’t go so well. (TMZ)

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


Turmoil has gripped the leadership ranks of the California National Guard, with the firing of the general who commanded its air branch, the suspension of a second key general and new limits placed by Newsom on the organization’s use of fighter jets for civilian missions. (Los Angeles Times)


Addiction is a significant piece of L.A. County’s homelessness problem. Columnist Steve Lopez reported on how three formerly homeless women are finding their way to recovery. (Los Angeles Times)

Eli Broad’s era is in the past. L.A. needs fewer kingmakers and Masters of the Universe and more inclusive, diverse leaders who can share power and focus not just on building but fixing. That is the conclusion of many L.A. thinkers as they ponder the city’s future. (Los Angeles Times)

Another big victory off the field for Granada Hills Charter High School. (Los Angeles Daily News)


“I want girls to know they have options”: Make way for the biker girl power on the streets of L.A. (LA Taco)

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An overloaded boat crashed into a reef and broke apart off the coast of Point Loma on Sunday morning, leaving at least three people dead and more than two dozen hospitalized in what officials said was a suspected human smuggling attempt. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Debris in water
A panga boat capsized and broke apart off the coast of the Cabrillo National Monument on Sunday morning.
(OnScene TV)


More disturbing revelations in the City Hall developer corruption scandal. Now federal prosecutors say “indirect bribes” went to family members of officials. (Los Angeles Times)

Gymnasts share allegations about abuse at San Jose State. (Mercury News)


Across the nation, 46 states have rules preventing abusive officers from jumping jobs, furthering their careers by switching agencies even after they’ve committed serious misconduct or been fired. California is not one of them — but a proposed law to change that is facing unexpectedly fierce opposition at the Capitol. (Los Angeles Times)

A huge marijuana grow is found in Death Valley. (SFGATE)

Chandra Levy’s family is still dealing with grief and loss 20 years later. (Modesto Bee)


L.A. reported no COVID-19 deaths Sunday. Though the figure is probably an undercount, it still marked a bright spot, capping several months of progress in the fight against the coronavirus. (Los Angeles Times)

An outbreak of COVID-19 is tied to a Northern California High School. (SFGATE)

Hazards along the coast: A boy’s death and the hidden danger of “sneaker waves.” (San Francisco Chronicle)



Why the Golden Globes can’t solve their many problems. (Los Angeles Times)

Donors are pushing to elevate Jain studies and principles at colleges, as calls grow to diversify Euro-centric narratives in education. (Los Angeles Times)

And a Hollywood delight from columnist Nita Lelyveld: Here in this alley, which runs east to west from Cosmo Street to Cahuenga Boulevard, Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp first found an abandoned baby in ‘The Kid’ (1921). It’s where Harold Lloyd headed to work through the employees’ back entrance of De Vore Department Store in ‘Safety Last!’ (1923). It’s where Buster Keaton, chased by a pack of policemen, makes his thrilling escape by grabbing one-handed onto a moving car in ‘Cops’ (1922).” (Los Angeles Times)

A man in an alley
John Bengtson imitates Charlie Chaplin in the Hollywood alley where Chaplin discovers an abandoned newborn in the 1921 film “The Kid.”
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Los Angeles: partly cloudy, 78. San Diego: sunny, 71. San Francisco: cloudy, 70. San Jose: sunny, 82. Fresno: sunny, 88. Sacramento: sunny, 90.


This week’s birthdays for those who made a mark in California:

Former royal baby and current Californian Archie Mountbatten-Windsor (May 6, 2019), baseball great Willie Mays (May 6, 1931), director Amy Heckerling (May 7, 1952) and veteran politician Bill Lockyer (May 8, 1941).

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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